Organic standards for milk, produce clarified

WASHINGTON, DC, October 21, 2004 (ENS): The 15 member National Organic Standards Board, responsible for developing standards for substances to be used in organic production in the United States, has won clarification of three standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Last week, at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) public meeting in Washington, DC, the USDA verbally "concurred" with three out of the four NOSB inputs on the directives issued by USDA concerning milk, produce and fishmeal.

For complete commentary and a detailed look at all the issues discussed at the meeting read the latest:

by NOSB Chair Jim Riddle.

These directives were publicly rescinded by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman last May, but there was widespread concern among many groups, including the Consumers' Union, that the interpretations made in the directives remained as the standing policy of the USDA.

USDA officials concurred that antibiotics or other prohibited substances should not be allowed for use on the organic dairy farm.

Prohibited pesticide ingredients cannot be used on crops, officials reaffirmed.

And any synthetics used in fishmeal, as a protein supplement for livestock, are prohibited unless reviewed by the NOSB and approved for organic production.

Consumers Union considers the responses from the USDA to be a positive step in the right direction. But the consumers advocacy organization, which publishes "Consumers' Report" magazine, said that it "does not want to see USDA quietly revisiting these issues as they did this past summer which led to considerable confusion about the status of the directives."

Consumers Union and others have asked the USDA to issue dated written responses and to post them on the National Organic Program website so that consumers, farmers and certifiers are clear about USDA's current interpretation of the organic standards.

A detailed discussion of the three directives is online at:

Consumers Union cautions that until the USDA establishes organic standards for fish farms, for pet food and for personal care products, the claims on labels cannot be relied upon to meet organic criteria, however defined.

CU's advice to consumers is "save your money and don't buy organic fish, pet food or personal care products until the USDA provides additional standards."

The USDA has announced that the first audit of the National Organic Program has been completed by the American National Standards Institute and will be released in mid-November. This audit will provide the public, farmers and certifiers with a report card of how well the USDA is managing the accreditation of certifiers and where improvement is needed.

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